The Milton Historical Society's latest addition brings a youthful spin to town brimming with hundreds of years of history.
Allison Schell took over as the organization's director in early June, replacing Jennifer Legates who spent just six months in the position. The society's board of trustees spent the next year carefully combing the market for a perfect fit – Schell was it.
“My story is serendipitous,” she said.
With graduation from George Washington University looming, she said, she sent her resume to museums in states she was willing to relocate to. When the Milton Historical Society responded, she quickly jumped on the opportunity to interview.
“I fell in love with Milton the moment I drove down here,” she said. “I love the museum, the mission and the people. I just seemed like a good fit.”
With more than three months under her belt, Schell said, she is still absorbing as much of the town's history as possible. Among her favorite pieces of Milton history so far is the coincidental occurrence of B industries – boats, buttons, beans and beer.
Schell graduated in May with a master's degree in museum studies. She completed her undergraduate studies at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.
The Pennsylvania native said a passion for history was instilled in her at a young age. Having a father as a history teacher coupled with a memorable trip to Colonial Williamsburg opened her eyes to the idea of working with history.
“I was like four or five,” she said of the trip. “That has always stuck with me; the interaction I had with the people there, the history of the time. I've been back there so many times, but I think that's what motivated me to start working and volunteering in museums.”
She said she started volunteering at age 13 and has been involved in museums in some capacity ever since. While in graduate school, Schell worked for the Smithsonian Institution's numismatic department, which studies the history of currency. She also spent time at the National Women's History Museum.
“I've done everything, from living history – dressing up in costumes – to dealing with collections, working with objects and development,” she said.
Her experiences as an intern, volunteer and student have prepared her for the job, she said.
She is eager to liven up the historical society's space in the Lydia B. Cannon Museum on Union Street. She said she'd like to work with the exhibit space to attract return visitors. Her goal is to have two rotating temporary exhibits.
“That's bringing in and appealing to tourist audiences,” she said. “We really have to focus on the locals too because they're the ones who will come back. If the museum stays pretty stagnate, there is no reason for them to come back more than once.”
Schell will also spearhead an expansion project that's in the works. In 2011, local businessman Tom Draper donated the land adjacent to the museum with hope the society will have the means to expand in the future.
Schell is also working with the historical societies in Lewes, Rehoboth and Milford to attract more people to their respective towns and museums. She expects to start sharing traveling exhibits in the coming year. She'd also like to initiate more walking tours as a different way for people to learn the history of the town.
“I've always thought the best way to learn Milton's history is to walk around,” she said.
She said she's quickly learned the locals know a lot, if not more, about the town than she does, and she likes the idea of tapping into that well.
“I was just glad the people in the town had such an appreciation for their heritage,” she said. “I could see that with the museum because people are so supportive of it and what we do here, and understand its role in the community. That was really important for me in taking this job. I don't want to be a director in a place nobody cares about.”
The Lydia B. Cannon Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by chance. For more information about the historical society, go to www.historicmilton.org.